Thursday, 26 July 2012

Ancient Trees of Ashdown

There are many old trees in the woodland at Ashdown Park and two that The Woodland Trust has identified  as being officially "ancient.". There is no precise definition of an ancient tree but there are some guiding factors: They are trees of interest biologically, aesthetically or culturally because of their age, they are trees that are in the ancient stage of their life, and they are trees that are old relative to others of the same species. Trees grow at different rates and so a 100 year old willow or birch tree would be ancient whilst a 200 year old beech would be only just starting to age, a 200 year old oak would be beginning to mature and a 200 year old yew would be very young!

At Ashdown our two ancient trees are both beeches. One has a girth of 4.96 metres, the other a girth of 5.15 metres. It's difficult to assess the age of a beech on the basis of girth alone but both of these trees are several centuries old and may well have been standing when the house was built 350 years ago. Accordingly, as a tribute to Ashdown's anniversary this year, we have unofficially named them the Elizabeth Beech and the William Beech. Elizabeth stands on the back boundary of Hailey Wood. William stands at the back of Upper Wood. Both stand beside the medieval Park Pale. According to the Woodland Trust this is no co-incidence; many of the surviving ancient trees in the UK stand in what were once Royal hunting forests and medieval deer parks. It's wonderful that at Ashdown we have this link with the early history of the estate.

The Ashdown Park Pale was built in 1204 when the Ashbury estate belonged to Glastonbury Abbey and Ashdown was a hunting forest. Park pales consisted of a bank and ditch with a wooden palisade, or fence, 
on the top. They were designed to let the deer in through gaps in the pale called deer leaps, but once inside the emparkment the deer could not get out again. At Ashdown the entire existing wood was emparked.  Changes to the estate and the parkland during the 18th and 19th centuries have altered the appearance of the landscape, and the park pale that surrounded Middle and Hailey Woods has mostly been either ploughed out of the fields, demolished or worn away, although the later ha-ha is still visible. 

However to the south of the sarsen field and most particularly around Upper Wood, the park pale is still a magnificent earthwork rising up to 9 metres high on the escarpment of the hill. The photograph above shows the remains of the park pale where it intersects with the Lambourn road to the south of the estate. There is a footpath that runs up the back of Upper Wood (where the William Beech stands) and around the top of the park pale and from this vantage point you get a superb view of the surrounding landscape. You can also see what a huge embankment the park pale originally was.

There is one other verified ancient tree at Ashdown that is currently not on the map. A couple of years ago English Nature paid Ashdown a visit to assess the elm avenues. In the course of their work they also discovered an oak tree on the edge of Upper Wood. Measurements taken showed that this oak was old enough to be part of the original 13th century hunting forest. In honour of its ancient status and the connection to Glastonbury Abbey this has therefore been named the Glastonbury Oak. We are very proud to have ancient trees at Ashdown. They are living relics that inspire awe and mystery and have helped to shape our history.


Minerva Black the shoppe keeping cat said...

Another great post! We have wandered a bit near Ashdown House admiring the trees and landscape. Must visit again now we have more detail. Please see my comment on your previous post - we've given you The Kreative Blogger Award! Minerva x

lostpastremembered said...

Hmmm, next time I'm there I must visit that old oak... they have such energies those ancient trees. Great post.

Nicola Cornick said...

Thank you! I am so pleased you liked the post. I agree that the ancient trees are magnificent and have so much atmosphere and power. The oak is beautiful - and such a wonderful link back to the medieval history of Ashdown.

whitehorsepilgrim said...

A couple of days ago I rode through the park and past the old stables (about which I hope you will post - they look fascinating along with other historic buildings bordering the bridleway). The park is intriguing and atmospheric, with those old trees, and the pale is still impressive. The ha-ha looked in good shape. It would make a nice project to create a footpath from which to appreciate the whole pale, most of which appears to be inaccessible in fields.

The sarsen fields are peculiar. Ss there a reason why the stones were left lying?

Something else I noticed was that view of the house down the avenue of trees which can be seen from the Ridgeway. Now that's the result of careful planning a long time ago.

Nicola Cornick said...

Thank you, I'd be very happy to blog about the Victorian stables and Ashdown village. It is a fascinating topic.

My understanding is that the haha has recently been restored and it's lovely to see it so clearly again after years lurking beneath the undergrowth! It would be great to have a footpath that traced the Park Pale. I think, however, that a lot of those fields are privately owned so the best we could do is probably put together a walk that goes as close to the pale as possible. That would be fun to do.

All the sarsens except the ones on the lawns were left lying. I am not sure why unless it was out of respect for the very powerful legends that surround them. And yes, the view of the house from the Ridgeway down the North Avenue was deliberately designed to frame the house. This was a part of the way landscapes were designed in the 18th century, when the grounds were remodelled, but also in my opinion was the Cravens making a statement of "Look at our big house!"